Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery S2E1 "Brother"

Loads of spoilers as usual!

While half the internet is upset over the Gillette ad, the other half is upset over the fact that I haven't posted this yet. Actually, the fact that I haven't got around to watching the new season of STD (I think we agreed it wasn't going to be called STD for obvious reasons, but I can't remember what acronym people went with. A quick Google later I see one version is DSC) gave me reason to think. DSC has completely vacated my mind since it ended a bit under a year ago. Part of that might be because the bf gave me a ST Voyager box for my birthday (which is in April) and I have slowly been making my way through rewatching that, sort of filling my Star Trek needs. Me and my baby daughter watch half an episode here and there when she decides to wake up at 6 am, she probably thinks Janeway is her real mother now. But then when I was on Netflix I saw that a new episode of DSC had been released and I was like "ohh yeah, DSC was a thing". It still took me two more days before I got around to watching it because even though I enjoyed season 1 well enough, I just wasn't that hyped for season 2 anymore (and then it took me another day to finish this post, because I always write more than I intend to).

A bit of humour is inserted in the series with this scene.

But I've watched it now and I am glad I did because it didn't feel like a waste of my time. That's always a good thing, right?

The episode starts with the mandatory flashback to season 1. And it's a bit funny to think back to season 1 after you've watched this episode because they seem completely, or at least almost completely, unrelated. If I think back to the other Star Trek series there are, like TOS, VOY or DS9, they all have a bigger story arch that motivates the series and underlying stories. TOS has its 5 year mission. VOY needs to get back to earth. DS9 is next to a worm hole with all that entails. What is the goal of DSC though? It seemed to be to fight the Klingons and then suddenly we were thrown into the mirror universe and the whole Klingon thing sort of died off somewhere. And so did the mirror universe arch very quickly. And now we seem to be into something completely else. But I am sure it will all tie in at some point. But for this episode we seem to be off for something new.

It starts with a lot of fan service, which was already hinted at the end of S1. After a flashback to Burnham's childhood (after the flashback to season 1) in which we see a child Spock, Discovery gets hailed by the Enterprise and its captain Christopher Pike, who of course was the captain there before Kirk. I'm not sure how much Pike had of a backstory before, but I find it interesting that they seem to be trying to give him a proper spot in the Star Trek canon now. If you are unfamiliar with the whole thing about Pike, I suggest you read up a bit on it.


Pike tells Discovery that he is there to take over command of the ship because they need to explore some weird signal they've found and the Enterprise has been rendered useless when trying to find out what it was. Having a new captain on board allows for some bridge exposition when Pike asks everyone to tell us their names. I wonder if this is a small hint from the creators to acknowledge that hardly anyone on the bridge was given any screen time or depth in season 1, but on the other hand they're probably not that clever... Here's to hoping we will get more character developing episodes like in every other Star Trek series to date.

As Discovery gets to the spot of the signal they find some sort of meteorite that is falling apart. Their presence seems to push the meteorite towards a pulsar, because of course it does. They also discover that a starship, the USS Hiawatha thought destroyed in the Klingon war, is actually lodged on the meteorite and Pike immediately orders for a landing party (because they can't be teleported out, that would make things too easy) to save any survivors. He is of course reminded that it is highly unlikely anyone has survived and the rescue mission itself is likely to kill everyone involved, but not only is Pike adamant to go through with it, he wants to lead it himself. Because of course he does.

It's worth noting here that Pike brings two crew members from Enterprise on to Discovery and none of them are anyone we've seen before. One of them however is a so called "red shirt" and I immediately thought that this person will die. But the episode subverted my (and probably a lot of other peoples expectations) by killing of the other guy instead. I don't want to write "nice one" right after saying someone died, so let's just say that it was cleverly written.

Fashion kills.

As they hurl down towards the surface of the meteorite in what is almost a needlessly dramatic scene, not only does one of the four members of the away team die, Pike also almost dies but Burnham manages to save him with some extreme luck. I'm no expert in physics though, but if you are falling at great speed and stop quickly, does it matter if it's against rock or by upward thrust? Surely both should be just as damaging to biological matter, it's not like Burnham is one of the Mars landers that can do that kind of thing.

On the Hiawatha they find that the engineer has stayed behind to deal with several wounded members of the crew who weren't able to join in on the evacuation. The survivors have been there for ten months and just now find out that the war with the Klingons is over. Then they all need to get the heck out of there before they get melted in a pulsar. They intend to do this by strengthening the transport signal to the teleporter and teleport everyone out. Just as they are about to leave Burnham gets knocked over however and misses the beam out. It seems like a hopeless situation but the only thing that comes out of that whole ordeal is that she discovers that the meteorite itself doesn't teleport. The implications are apparently something-something about dark matter that isn't expanded upon much in this episode. But getting to where that is revealed is yet again somewhat of a needlessly dramatic scene where it seems like Burnham is about to die. (She also gets her femur impaled but is fine a handful of hours later, because of course future medicine).

I haven't mentioned yet that Stamets says he is going to leave the Discovery because there are too many memories of Hugh, but then suddenly he...is not? It's not entirely clear.

Overall the episode was very high energy and action and had a good pace. It was entertaining even if I felt like some of the action was shoehorned in rather than thought through, but at least it was pretty to look at. It seemed like the director had gone through a list of cinematographical tropes too, we've got the symmetry shot, the "different setting, same shot"- shot, the "extreme close up of peripheral"-shot and so many more. It's almost worth making a Bingo chart over and see how many you can spot when you watch it.

Bringing in Pike and all the mentioning of Spock (there is a reveal that Spock is off doing something stupid towards the end) brings out one of the issues I have with this series. It's lodged between the 60s aesthetics of the Original Series and the modern style that it wants to use, so it kind of uses both. We see Tilly using the "flip cover" walkie-talkies of TOS but everyone is also using the badge com of subsequent series. When Pike and his crew come on to the Discovery they are wearing a version of the uniform from TOS, but then they swap to the Discovery one. There are some neat references to TOS throughout though, like them calling it "warp factor" instead of just "warp". We also see Stamets use one of the personal holo-decks seen used by the captain of the Equinox in Star Trek Voyager season 5 episode 26, a sort of pre-cursor to the holo-decks used in series set later in time.

Pike himself seems a bit out of character though. Not that there is much of him to go on in TOS, but he comes off as a bit of a stiffie. His appearance in the Menagerie hardly counts as he doesn't do any acting, but in the original pilot and in the Star Trek movie he doesn't seem to be the down to earth, pleasant guy he is in this episode. I'm ok with that though, stiffie Pike isn't very interesting.

Another Pike.

Burnham continues to bring the same tortured expression she had throughout season 1, and I am ready to see her look a bit less constipated. But thinking of it, a lot of Star Trek characters have a "face", as in an expression they seem sort of to be stuck in, so maybe this is the one she is going with.

After having watched so much Voyager (I am on the final season) it is very interesting to see the differences between that show and this one. For now, the visuals of DSC are so bombastic I find it difficult to sift through whether that's mainly where the differences lie or if there are also broader storytelling differences. There are some I've mentioned of course, the focus on basically just the one character (Burnham) instead of multiple characters from previous series and what seems like a lack of a greater story arch (but I am sure that will materialize soon, and TNG didn't really have that either?). It's only on season 2 so it probably still doesn't dare to calm down a bit to give us some more joyful and less action-packed episodes, lest it loses our attention - but they are the episodes I am looking forward to.

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